Minnesota Senate Republicans proposed borrowing $825 million for public works on Wednesday, setting up an end-of-session rush to see whether Senate and House Republicans can get on the same page with DFL Gov. Mark Dayton, who wants to spend much more.
Leaders from both political parties have made passage of a bonding bill top priority at the Capitol this year, but passing a large public works package is always politically thorny. The total amount of the Senate GOP’s plan is the same as a plan offered by House Republicans last week, but with variations in the amount of money borrowed for roads, public universities, improvements to public buildings, and other areas.
Both plans, meanwhile, amount to about half of the $1.5 billion bonding plan Dayton pitched earlier this year. The governor quickly labeled the GOP proposals “woefully inadequate.”
GOP leaders in the Senate said their proposal, paired with another $224 million in road-funding bonds from the state’s trunk highway fund, focuses on the “most critical projects” around the state.
“I think it’s balanced politically, balanced geographically, and it’s balanced broadly in terms of meeting the needs of Minnesotans in many, many important areas,” said Sen. David Senjem, R-Rochester, chairman of the Senate’s Capital Investment Committee. Senjem said the bonding plan includes significant investments in some areas that got less attention in Dayton’s proposal, including road and bridge improvements and mental health facilities.
The Senate proposal matches or comes close to the House in a few key areas, including the amount set aside for water infrastructure projects ($120 million) and roads and bridges (about $119 million). It splits $130 million between the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota State University system for work on campus facilities, plus another $76 million for specific projects at Bemidji State University, Rochester Community and Technical College and the University of Minnesota.
A total of $80 million would be dedicated for mental health services, including crisis centers and housing, while $32 million would go toward building veterans’ housing in Bemidji, Montevideo and Preston. The House, on the other hand, wants to use reserve funds meant for paying off bonds for U.S. Bank Stadium to pay for the veterans’ projects.
Including the trunk highway bonds, the Senate plan would borrow nearly $343 million for work on roads and bridges. Nearly $175 million would be dedicated to expanding state Hwy. 14 between Owatonna and Dodge Center. Other sizable road projects include $16.8 million for the interchange of Hwy. 169 and 101st Avenue in Brooklyn Park, $9 million for the realignment of Hwy. 101 in Carver County, and $7.5 million for a Hwy. 8 reconstruction project in Chisago County.
The unveiling of the Senate bonding proposal came a few hours after a House committee made a significant addition to that chamber’s own $825 million bonding bill: $250 million in trunk highway bonds.
Rep. Alice Hausman, the House DFL lead on the bonding committee, said that amounts to GOP leaders trying to put more money into roads at the expense of other needs, including transit and rail system. Dayton’s proposal includes $50 million for bus rapid transit lines, an item not included in either the House or Senate proposals.
“This bill has, in effect, also become a transportation bill, which excludes the top [Minnesota Department of Transportation] priorities and leaves out transit and passenger rail,” Hausman said of the House plan. “These omissions put us behind nearly every other nearby state and creates a concern for our business competitiveness.”
Senjem said he hopes for a full Senate vote on the bonding bill by early next week. Members of both chambers will then meet in conference to combine their proposals into a single bill. Senjem expects that part of the process will be relatively straightforward; although he didn’t work with House leaders in crafting his plan, he said the differences between the two proposals are “not profound.”
Senjem said the Legislature has the difficult job of putting together a streamlined bill that will win support from Republicans who control the Legislature and enough DFLers to satisfy the supermajority requirement for bonding bills. That’s a particular challenge in the closely divided Senate; Sen. Sandy Pappas of St. Paul, the DFL lead on bonding in the Senate, called the Republican proposal “a missed opportunity in a number of ways.”
Winning over Dayton is likely to be a bigger challenge. Not needing to build the necessary coalitions allows the governor to pitch something broader, Senjem said.
“We’ll let the governor do his job, and hopefully he’ll see the wisdom of the attributes of this bill, especially in areas like local roads and bridges, transportation and mental health,” Senjem said.